Ann Landers is quoted as saying: “The trouble with talking too fast is you may say something you haven’t thought of yet.” When you are talking to a person who is in a drug and alcohol rehab treatment program, it is easy to do just that.
Why Talking to a Person in Addiction Rehab Is Tricky
Why are people prone to saying the wrong things to a recovering addict? There are a number of reasons. First, it may be the surprise when a recovering addict opens up to you about his or her struggle. Surprised people often blurt out the first thing that comes to their mind.
Second, you may be uncomfortable talking about another person’s addiction. Since addiction recovery is a personal struggle, you may feel pressured to say something supportive, but have no idea what to say.
Third, you may have such a desire to help a recovering addict that you boldly rush in with unwanted, counterproductive advice. Your good intentions can sometimes go horribly astray.
What Not to Say
What can you do to prevent yourself from saying the wrong thing to a recovering addict in or fresh out of rehab? Here are some classic examples of things not to say:
1) Wow, I had no idea. Are you sure you’re an addict?
When someone tells you he or she is an addict, believe it. Admitting that there is a problem is a very difficult step for most addicts to take on their way to recovery. If the person to whom you are speaking admits the problem, take his or her word for it.
While your intent may be to show the addict you are giving him or her the benefit of the doubt, asking if he or she is sure of being an addict can have disastrous consequences. Psychology Today notes: “All that statement does is compound the shame and embarrassment that stems from the stigma of addiction.”
2) How long have you been clean/sober?
This question only reminds a recovering addict of the last time he or she relapsed into destructive behaviors. The truth is that, for many addicts, relapse is quite common on the road to recovery.
Focus on the moment, not the history
The important thing is that the recovering addict is clean and sober today. What happened yesterday, or last year, is not as important as what is happening right now. If your friend is confiding in you about a struggle with drugs or alcohol, it is important to focus on the moment, not the history. A better thing to say is, “How is it going?” This shows that you care and also gives your friend an option to say whatever is most comfortable for him or her right now.
3) So, what do you do when you want to party now?
Whether you intend it or not, the implication of this statement is that a person cannot have a good time unless he or she is using alcohol or drugs. Recovering addicts are learning how to readjust in their relationship with drugs. They may have just gotten out of drug detox. This is not the time to make them think that their existence will be joyless without substance use. Why? First, it is cruel. Second, it is false. Many people have no trouble at all enjoying life without abusing drugs or alcohol. Your friend is fully capable of learning to do the same.
4) I know what you’re going through.
Unless you are an addict yourself, it is doubtful that this statement is true. While your intent may be to be supportive, this statement does not really accomplish that. A recovering addict is going through a lot, on a scale you can scarcely imagine. Huffington Post‘s “8 Things You Should Never Say to People in Recovery” observes: “Saying ‘I know how you feel’ can actually end up minimizing the experiences and feelings of those in recovery. Instead try: ‘I can’t imagine what you are going through – but I am here for you and will help you get healthy in any way I can.'”
Offering Support That Will Be Appreciated
The best course when talking with a recovering addict who confides in you about his or her struggles is to put your brain in gear before putting your mouth into motion. Think before you speak.
“The trouble with talking too fast is you may say something you haven’t thought of yet.”
It is often the case that your friend only wants to talk about the problem, and is not necessarily looking to you for a solution. Offer your support by providing a listening ear and a steady friendship during a trying time. If he or she needs someone to attend meetings, offer your services. If your friend needs your help to let others know, do so. Be alert to ways to offer support without offering unwanted advice. In other words, be a friend.
We’re Here to Help
If you have a friend who is struggling with addiction and you would like more information about ways to help, contact us. We work with recovering addicts and their families and friends every day to help them cope with their addiction and make their way back to wellness.